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Dr. Donnica's Top Tips for Healthy Travel, Part Four

A major vacation means taking a break from your routine. The more you maintain your usual healthy habits, the better you'll maintain your health during vacation.† Take your usual vitamins and supplements.† Take your usual prescription medications at your usual times.† If you change time zones, adjust your medications accordingly.† Take prophylactic medications if necessary or advised.† If you are on a special diet, try to follow it.†

Avoid Overindulgence

There are several threats to healthy travel.† Safety is first and foremost.† While most of us think of crime or accidents as the biggest vacation risks, our own overindulgence is a bigger problem.† In general, we like to splurge on vacation and may not use the same caution as at home.†† Consuming too much alcohol may be the greatest risk.† Not only does getting drunk have direct health risks (dehydration, gastrointestinal upset, hangovers, falls or other injuries, fatty liver, etc.), it may increase your likelihood of participating in unhealthy behaviors (drunk driving, using poor judgment, unsafe sex, etc.).†

Water and Food Quality

Watching what you drink does not just apply to alcohol, being aware of water quality in vacation locations is also critically important.† Not drinking enough water (dehydration) can also be a health risk, especially in warmer climates.

Trying new foods is often a vacation perk, but being aware of food safety is as important as water quality.† Eating unfamiliar foods, or general overindulgence, may also precipitate severe indigestion, which may mimic cardiac symptoms.† Eating contaminated foods may also lead to food poisoning or "traveler's diarrhea."†† While traveler's diarrhea is often discussed, traveler's constipation may be a more common problem.† To prevent it, be sure to stay well hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and take a brisk walk for 25 minutes each day.† If you become constipated, take a gentle stimulant laxative before the situation gets any worse.†


Sleep disturbances are common travel traps, especially if you have changed time zones.† If this has affected you in the past, limit your caffeine and alcohol intake.† You may also want to be prepared by using your preferred sleep aids for the first two or three nights.†

Fun in the Sun

Sunny destinations are vacation magnets, but too much sun exposure carries a number of risks.† Protect the skin you are in by following the slip, slap, slop rules:† slip on a hat, slap on a shirt, and slop on sunscreen.† Reapply sunscreen frequently.† Use aloe on any sunburned skin.† While most travelers are aware of the risk of sunburns, heat exhaustion, sunstroke, and sun poisoning are also serious risks.†

Fitness and Exercise

Many people are more active on vacation than they are at home.† While exercise is generally a good thing, make sure your level of exercise is appropriate for your level of health and fitness.† For example, if you are generally sedentary, don't set out to shop until you drop.† Adjust your level of activity accordingly in excessively warm or cold climates or destinations at very high altitudes.† Appropriate, comfortable footwear and clothing can make a huge difference to minimize stress and injury regardless of the activity.†

Infection Control

Practicing infection control measures is important at home, but even more important when traveling.† In addition to being aware of food and water quality, hand washing is the single most important infection control measure.† Carry Purell or handy wipes in your purse in case sinks and soap are not readily available.† While this should go without saying, those who engage in sexual liaisons while on vacation need to use the same or greater level of safe sex practices as recommended at home; certain sexually transmitted diseases are much more prevalent in other countries and are a very unwelcome souvenir.†

If You Get Sick

While no one wants to get sick while on vacation, think about what you would do in those circumstances.† In general, it all depends upon your medical history, your symptoms and your location, but some rules of thumb apply.† First, do not ignore any bothersome symptoms. Attend to medical problems sooner rather than later.† This is to prevent their evolution into something worse, but also because it may take more time to access the necessary health care services or resources away from home.†

Do not hesitate to cancel planned activities when ill, even if you can't get a refund. Get extra rest.† Ask yourself, "Is this something I can treat with common remedies (like ginger ale for an upset stomach) or over-the-counter remedies (like acetaminophen for a headache) or is this something that requires medical advice or attention?† If medical attention is required, your hotel concierge is a good place to start for a recommendation.† If you are unsure, you may want to phone your personal physician to discuss the situation.† If you are unwell but able to travel, you may elect to end your vacation early to return home.† In medical emergencies, of course, the same guidelines apply as they would at home.†

Created: 10/18/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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